U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Saint Lucia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||25 February 2000|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Saint Lucia , 25 February 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa761c.html [accessed 25 May 2015]|
Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Government comprises a prime minister, a cabinet, and a bicameral legislative assembly. A Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, is the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. In general elections in 1997, the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) defeated the incumbent United Workers Party (UWP), gaining 16 of 17 seats in the House of Assembly. Dr. Kenny Anthony of the SLP assumed the prime ministership from the UWP's Dr. Vaughan Lewis, who had taken over from long-serving UWP Prime Minister John Compton in March 1996. The judiciary is independent.
The Royal Saint Lucia Police is the only security force and includes a small unit called the Special Services Unit (which has some paramilitary training) and a coast guard unit. They are controlled by and responsive to the Government. There were occasional allegations of abuse by the police.
The economy is based on tourism and on the export of bananas, which represent the principal sources of foreign exchange earnings. Saint Lucia is diversifying its economy into other types of agriculture, light manufacturing, and construction. Unemployment, estimated at 22 percent in late 1998, remains a source of potential instability. Per capita gross domestic product was about $3,000 in 1997.
The Government generally respected citizens' human rights; however, there were a few problems. Occasional credible allegations of physical abuse of suspects or prisoners by the police, very poor prison conditions, long delays in trials, domestic violence against women, and child abuse were the major problems.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings.
On June 18, in the village of Micoud, police shot and killed a suspected marijuana dealer in an exchange of gunfire. Police officers also were injured in the exchange. In commenting on the incident, one local newspaper questioned whether the police had used excessive force in seeking to apprehend the marijuana dealer.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution specifically prohibits torture, and there were no reports of such abuse. However, one newspaper reported that on July 15 police officers severely beat a detainee being held on charges of breaking and entering, and burglary. The individual allegedly broke into and stole items from a police officer's home. According to the medical report, injuries included a black eye due to fist blows, pains in a finger due to twisting, pains in the thorax and scrotum due to blows, and head pains due to kicks.
Prison conditions are very poor. The island's only prison, built in the 1800's to house a maximum of 101 prisoners, was subject to severe overcrowding with over 340 inmates. The prison's conditions, overcrowding, and lengthy trial delays led to a prison riot in June 1997; prisoners set fires that destroyed over half of the antiquated prison. The inmates asserted that the fires were part of a protest for improved prison conditions. Following the fires, the authorities transferred about 250 inmates to a factory shell outside the capital and stationed the paramilitary Special Services Unit at the prison. The prison has since been repaired, the majority of prisoners have been returned to the prison, and the Special Services Unit has ceased guarding the prison.
Following the riots, the Government invited Penal Reform International (PRI), a London-based nongovernmental organization (NGO), to conduct a study of the prison and make recommendations. Its recommendations included the release of prisoners awaiting trial for minor offenses and the introduction of noncustodial alternatives as a sentencing option. As a result of the PRI report, the authorities selected a new superintendent of prisons who took over in February 1998, established a permanent Complaints Board comprised of prominent citizens to meet every month to hear prisoners' complaints, hired 24 new prison officials, and made some limited improvements to the facility. Despite these measures, inmates made another attempt to burn down the main prison facility in September 1998, but caused only limited damage. According to the superintendent, both the 1997 and the 1998 incidents of unrest occurred prior to the start of a new session of the High Court when prisoners on "remand" (detention pending trial or further court action) discovered that their cases were not on the published list of cases to be heard. There are 101 prisoners on remand who have been denied bail and are awaiting trial.
The Government also started the groundwork for a new $17 million (EC$50 million) prison facility near Dennery in the eastern part of the island. The projected completion date for the new prison is September 2000.
The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Government adheres to the constitutional provisions that prohibit arbitrary arrest or imprisonment and require a court hearing within 72 hours after detention. However, the authorities frequently have held prisoners for years on remand after charging them (there is no constitutional requirement for a speedy trial). At the time of the 1997 prison riot, about 160 of the prisoners were on remand. One extreme case involved a prisoner put on remand in 1993, who finally was tried and convicted in June 1998. In addition, two foreign nationals, a Ghanaian and a Nigerian, have been held on remand since 1996. These individuals are being detained for immigration violations, pending resolution of who will pay the expense of their deportations.
The Government does not use forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and it is independent in practice.
There are two levels of courts: Courts of summary jurisdiction (magistrate's courts) and the High Court. Both levels have civil and criminal authority. The lower courts accept civil claims up to about $1,850 (EC$5,000) in value and criminal cases generally classified as "petty." The High Court has unlimited authority in both civil and criminal cases. All cases can be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. Cases may be appealed to the Privy Council in London as the final court of appeal.
The Constitution requires public trials before an independent and impartial court and, in cases involving capital punishment, provision of legal counsel for those who cannot afford a defense attorney. In criminal cases not involving capital punishment, defendants must obtain their own legal counsel. Defendants are entitled to select their own legal counsel, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and have the right of appeal. The authorities observe both constitutional and statutory requirements for fair public trials.
However, the court system continued to face a serious backlog of cases. In the latter part of 1998, the magistrate's courts had a backlog of over 6,000 cases. Previously, the Government had invited a team of justices from Australia to conduct a study and to make recommendations for reducing the backlog. The team issued a report (the Bauer report) in 1998. At year's end, the Government still was reviewing the report's recommendations.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits such practices, government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanctions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
There are five privately owned newspapers, two privately owned radio stations, and one partially government-funded radio station. They carry a wide spectrum of political opinion and are often critical of the Government. The radio stations have discussion and call-in programs that allow persons to express their views. The two local television stations are also privately owned and cover a wide range of views. In addition there is subscription cable television service, which provides programming from a variety of sources.
The Government does not restrict academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The law requires permits for public meetings and demonstrations if they are to be held in public places, such as on streets or sidewalks or in parks. The police routinely grant such permits; the rare refusal generally stems from the failure of organizers to request the permit in a timely manner, normally 48 hours before the event.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.
No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests exists. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of the forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status; however, government practice remains undefined.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens have the right to change their government and exercised that right in 1997 when the SLP defeated the UWP, which had governed with only one interruption since 1964. The SLP won 16 of 17 seats, campaigning on a platform of job creation and economic diversification and appealing explicitly to women and younger voters. In response to concerns about the size of the SLP's parliamentary majority, Prime Minister Anthony publicly emphasized that the Government would make efforts to reach out to the opposition to ensure that the country's democratic traditions were not undermined by the small size of the parliamentary opposition. The 1996 merger of smaller parties – the Concerned Citizens' Movement, the Saint Lucia Freedom Party, and the Citizens' Democratic Party – into the SLP left the country with only two major political parties. The Governor General, who had been affiliated with the UWP, stepped down following the elections. He was replaced by Pearlette Louisy.
Under the Constitution, general elections must be held at least every 5 years by secret ballot, but may be held earlier at the discretion of the government in power. Two members of the Senate are independent, appointed by the Governor General.
There are no legal impediments to participation by women and minorities in government and politics; however, women and minorities are underrepresented. Two of the 13 members of the Cabinet are women, as is the Governor General.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government generally does not restrict international or nongovernmental investigations of alleged violations of human rights. In some cases it has requested international organizations to investigate possible abuses.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
Government policy is nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement. There are no legal restrictions on the role of women or minorities.
There is increased awareness of the seriousness of violence against women. The Government does not prosecute crimes of violence against women unless the victim presses charges. If the victim chooses for any reason not to press charges, the Government cannot bring a case. Charges must be brought under the ordinary Civil Code. In 1997 the Government established a family court to hear cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children.
The police force conducts some training for police officers responsible for investigating rape and other crimes against women, but there is no special unit that handles crimes against women. Police and courts enforce laws to protect women against abuse, although police are hesitant to intervene in domestic disputes, and many victims are reluctant to report cases of domestic violence and rape or to press charges.
The 1994 Domestic Violence Act allows a judge to issue a protection order prohibiting an abuser from entering or remaining in the place where the victim is. It also allows the judge to order that an abuser's name be removed from housing leases or rental agreements, with the effect that the abuser would no longer have the right to live in the same residence as the victim.
The Saint Lucia Crisis Center for women was established in 1988 in Castries, the capital; a second opened in the southern town of Vieux Fort in January. These centers monitor cases of physical and emotional abuse and help clients deal with such problems as incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights. The Crisis Center has publicized the plight of battered women and has protested the rare deaths of women who were victims of domestic violence. The organizers also are working to establish a shelter for battered women and homeless girls, but no progress had been made at year's end. The Crisis Center reports that the number of new cases declined since the establishment of the family court because women can seek help in two places. Some secondary schools address the problems of sexual harassment and battering in their curriculum topics.
Women's affairs come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs, and Women. The Minister is responsible for protecting women's rights in domestic violence cases and preventing discrimination against women, including ensuring equal treatment in employment.
Since independence, successive governments have given high priority to improving educational opportunities and health care for the nation's children. Education is free and compulsory from age 5 through 15. However, only about one-third of primary school children continue on to secondary schools, and the drop-out rate from primary to secondary school is higher for boys than for girls. Government clinics provide prenatal care, immunization, child health care, and health education services throughout the island.
A broad legal framework exists for the protection of children through the Criminal Code, the Children and Young Persons Act, the Family Court Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Attachment of Earnings Act. Although the Government adopted a national plan of action in November 1991 for the survival, protection, and development of children, it has not fulfilled this program by implementing effective programs. The Saint Lucia Crisis Center reports that the incidence of child abuse remains high.
People with Disabilities
No specific legislation protects the rights of the disabled, nor mandates provision of access to buildings or government services for them. There is no rehabilitation facility for the physically disabled, although the Health Ministry operates a community-based rehabilitation program in residents' homes. There are schools for the deaf and for the blind up to the secondary level. There is also a school for the mentally retarded.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution specifies the right of workers to form or belong to trade unions under the broader rubric of the right of association. Most public sector employees are unionized; about 20 percent of the total work force is unionized. Unions are independent of government and are free to choose their own representatives in often vigorously contested elections. There are no restrictions on the formation of national labor federations. In 1994 several of the major unions formed an umbrella grouping called the Industrial Solidarity Pact.
Strikes in both the public and private sectors are legal, but there are many avenues through collective bargaining agreements and government procedures that may preclude a strike. The law prohibits members of the police and fire departments from striking. Other "essential services" workers – water and sewer authority workers, electric utility workers, nurses, and doctors – must give 30 days' notice before striking.
Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations, and some have done so.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Unions have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, and they fully exercise this right. Union representatives have reported attempts by the Government and other employers to undermine this process.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and there are effective mechanisms for resolving complaints. It also requires that employers reinstate workers fired for union activities.
Labor law is applicable in the export processing zones (EPZ's), and there are no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones. However, in practice many firms resist union efforts to organize in the EPZ's, even to the point of closing operations.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Government prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it is not known to occur. While there is no specific prohibition of forced or bonded labor by children, there were no reports of such practices.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
While the Children and Young Persons Act permits a minimum legal working age of 14 years, education legally is required through age 15. Ministry of Labor officials are responsible for enforcing the law. There were no reports of violations of child labor laws. The Government does not prohibit specifically forced and bonded labor by children, but such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Wages Regulations (Clerks) Orders, in effect since 1985, set out minimum wage rates only for clerks. These office workers receive a legislated minimum wage of about $300 (EC$800) per month. The minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, but some categories of workers receive more than the legal minimum for clerks, which is used only as a guide for setting pay for other professions.
There is no legislated workweek, although the common practice is to work 40 hours in 5 days. Special legislation covers hours which shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestics, and young people in industrial establishments may work.
Occupational health and safety regulations are relatively well developed. The Labor Ministry periodically inspects health and safety conditions at places of employment under the Employees' Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1985. The Ministry enforces the act through threat of closure of the business if it discovers violations and the violator does not correct them. Workers are free to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.
f. Trafficking in Persons
There are no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons. There were no reports that persons were trafficked in, to, or from the country.